Interview: Desperate Journalist

The London indie doyens chat about the inspirations behind dazzling new LP In Search of the Miraculous

Interview: Desperate Journalist One of 2019s best albums, In Search of the Miraculous, the third LP by estimable London indie / post punks Desperate Journalist managed to outstrip the accomplishments of its fêted predecessors. Combining taut guitar lines, Kosmische rhythms, plangent basslines and sugar dusted goth pop melodies, the set solders weapons grade hooks and anthemic choruses on to music that ranges from classic indie jangle to booming shoegaze and ethereal piano textures.

Fronted by outstanding lead singer Jo Bevan, the best lyricist in a guitar band at present, the quartet are currently touring the LP the UK (live review) before heading over to Germany for further dates in May. Unpicking the inspirations that went into making the album, Desperate Journalist's influences run far deeper than most groups. A really obvious one to start with then, how did the writing process for the album happen? “The process always starts with Rob’s guitar parts, followed by the rhythm section, with Jo’s vocals usually finished last” bassist Simon Drowner explains. “In the case of this album, Rob’s already had some pretty fully formed demos. Even so, we still spent a lot of time in the rehearsal room getting the final arrangements right”.

Named after artist Bas Jan Ader’s 1975 work In Search of the Miraculous, the album draws inspiration from the doomed project the conceptual artist undertook to sail across the Atlantic single-handedly. What first attracted you to Ader’s work? “I have always been very interested in conceptual art but not really understood the majority of it’ Jo explains. “At some point at art school I came across some images of his work and found the aesthetic intriguingly melancholic but didn’t really investigate too much further. During the period when we were writing this album I just decided on a whim to buy a book about Ader so I could get a handle on what the work was actually about, and found it really struck a chord with me”.

Continuing the nautical theme one of the album’s standout tracks, Ocean Wave has verses that reveal themselves over several listens to be a series of names skilfully phrased as complete sentences. “The music to me sounded a bit like a tempestuous ocean, and I wanted to try something a bit different lyrically so went with a list of ships which wrecked in the North Sea” Jo says of the lyrics. “The Ocean Wave of the title is the name of Bas Jan Ader’s boat which he used to try and sail across the Atlantic”.

Along with Ader, are there any other literary / cinematic /artistic influences on the LP you’ve picked up recently? “I wouldn’t say I had picked it up recently, but I hadn’t used the reference before in a song, Girl of the Houses is a Norse “kenning” or kind of lyrical portmanteau” Jo says. “These phrases are all over Old Norse poetry. The imagery in Murmuration was inspired in part by my reading Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmonds Roberts”.

Continuing the literary theme To Be Forgotten, inspired by Alan Hollinghurst’s 1980s-set novel The Line of Beauty takes on greater proportions live. Founded Caz Helbert’s pounding drumwork and Rob Hardy’s recurring guitar motif, the riff was conceived as “a combination of Yes by the Manics and Destroy The Heart by House Of Love” Rob explains. Another track that leans heavily on the band’s ability to lock on to a groove, the main musical hook for Black Net, is the drum pattern. Paying homage to one of Desperate Journalist’s founding influences The Cure, the track was “inspired by The Figurehead” Caz explains, from Robert Smith & Co’s darkest release, 1982 goth touchstone Pornography.

The chorus lyric of International Waters “Off the coast of Ireland / What’s the point in borders?” referring to the point where the wreckage of Ader’s craft was found could have a possible double meaning regarding Brexit. Was this the case? “It could be either now” Jo states “but initially it was just a more general statement of “who cares about such things in the face of human mortality?”” Leading on from which, with the current political situation, did the current political turmoil influence the album’s lyrics or making of the record? “I wouldn’t say consciously at all, but the uncertainty of the whole sorry situation may well have crept in there, among all my other anxieties” the singer replies. “We are a deeply foolish country to have got ourselves into this mess”.

The previously mentioned Murmuration, the album's curtain raising cut and current live opener is an imposing piece of gothic shoegaze, constructed around Simon Drowner’s strident bassline. What was the inspiration behind the bass riff? “The only idea was for it was to be as loud and powerful as possible, it’s a simple part but the bass really drives that track” Simon replies. “Unusually for us, the chorus is the only part of the song where I turn my distortion off”.

Redolent of The Ninth Wave, the continuous second half of Kate Bush’s masterpiece Hounds of Love, Argonauts is a slow-paced piano ballad with an atmospheric drift of synth textures. What’s the story behind the song? “Musically, it was an attempt at doing something a bit unusual, and evocative of a big calm expanse of sky or sea” Jo explains. “Lyrically, it’s about the idea of love sometimes having different meanings at different stages in a relationship. It’s inspired by Maggie Nelson’s book of the same name if you’re interested”.

Following from the memorable, almost filmic artwork of previous album Grow Up (2015), what was the concept behind the cover to In Search of the Miraculous? “I went to Dungeness in Kent to see the Sound Mirrors (pre-radar listening devices) on one of their two open days a year and took loads of terrible photos” Jo explains. “The image on the cover is the inside curve of one of them. I thought the concept of these quixotic, beautifully brutalist structures fitted with the theme of the record, and the strange dreamlike quality of the image appealed to us all. It’s a bit obvious, but the flower in the centre, and the shaft of light from the opening near the top are your classic symbols of hope in an image dominated by monolithic grey and concrete”.

In Search of the Miraculous is out now through Fierce Panda

Desperate Journalist Tour:

Thurs 21st March - Bristol - Exchange
Fri 22nd March - Nottingham - Bodega
Sat 23rd March - Leeds - Lending Room
Fri 5th April - London - The Garage
Weds 8th May - Hamburg, Hafenklang, DE
Thurs 9th May - Cologne, MTC, DE
Fri 10th May - Stuttgart, Merlin, DE
Sat 11th May - Munster, Gleiss 22, DE
Fri 6 Sept – Sun 8 Sept: Nocturnal Culture Night Festival, Kulturpark Deutzen, Deutzen, DE